Journalist Bill still talks hope for LA Times

GUEST COMMENTARY: Bill Dwyre is the award-winning former sports editor of the LA Times. He was named a Red Smith Award winner in 1996 for his service to journalism. He supervised more than 100 people, including 59 credentialed reporters for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Nicknamed “Journalist Bill” by LA radio icon Jim Healy, he’s a Notre Dame fan living in USC territory thereby displaying his toughness.

       By Bill Dwyre, former LA Times Sports Editor

Years ago, probably the early 1980s, a high editor at The Los Angeles Times decreed that baseball box scores were taking up too much space and that the sports department would, henceforth, not run them.          

   The amount of newsprint real estate chewed up daily by baseball box scores has always been jealously coveted by newspaper editors, especially those who deal with what they like to call “real news.”  That phrase was always meant as a snub to a sports section and was always taken as such.

          The 1980s experiment lasted one day. The outcry from readers was so loud that the box scores returned immediately and the high editor who had made the call returned to his glassed-in office to focus more on “real news.”

           Now, there appears again to be box score trouble in River City, aka The Times.

           Apparently, in a letter to readers coming Sunday from the current sports editor, the box scores will be once again removed in a section that has long been the sports standard-bearer for the West Coast. There will also allegedly be other changes, including such early deadlines that game reports will have no chance of getting into the next day’s paper. Did Ohtani hit another home run, strike out 10 again? Is Freddie Freeman still hot and among the best in National League hitters after last night’s game?

             Google it.

             Or go to the web, we are told. But when we arrive at, it is like finding our way through the jungle along the Amazon River. 

             When the box scores leave, has the circulation department staffed up to take all the calls? Will the uproar be enough to turn heads, change minds?

             It is also a different world now. The number of people screaming into the phone about canceling their subscriptions back in the 1980s was a fraction of the 1 million-plus circulation of the paper those days. They could have been ignored and the damage would have been minimal. But they were not ignored. The outpouring today won’t be nearly as loud because the circulation is a mere fraction of those newspaper hey days of the 1980s. But can this paper sacrifice any fraction of its reading public when the newspaper reading public still creates around 70% of the paper’s revenue?

              This is, we are told, the result of limited press time at area papers where The Times will start being printed early next year. As stupid as that is as a business matter—an historically industry leading newspaper without its own presses—there apparently still are six months remaining to address this, to figure it out, to save this once-great institution from being the final cautionary tale in the book about the end of print journalism in a country that, now more than ever, needs it. Sports is only a part of that, but it remains a driving force, a leader in “driving eyeballs” (an expression frequently used now and one that should be hated) to the printed page.

               How often has Dodgers’ fan Joe Jones zipped to the sports pages for news—not long gooey stories about some local kid who emulated Mookie Betts’ batting stance and got a hit in his high school Jayvee game—and found a story about a community issue he needed to know and understand? That is what a newspaper is, a journey seeking the expected and stumbling across the unexpected and important. We should not be amazed at how many box score readers end up being better citizens while pursuing Mike Trout’s current batting average.

           Criticism without ideas for solutions always feel shallow. So, let’s float one.

           If the Times sports section is destined to become a daily attempt at the long-gone days of Sports Illustrated, with its deeply reported, poetically written and artistically displayed stream of stories—all running well towards 2,000 words—then take the writers who do that and keep them scrambling. Seven days a week of this quality is nearly impossible, and I don’t see an abundance of Jim Murrays and Rick Reillys and Mike Downeys and Mark Heislers and Richard Hoffers and Randy Harveys and Tommy Bonks and Mike Littwins and Scott Ostlers and so many more like them floating around. But they may be there, just needing a push.

          As for the remaining high quality of sports reporters and columnists, unleash them on the dreaded web, give them 10:30 p.m. deadlines and daily game and news assignments and pound on the table about the need to break news. Talk about producing the best sports web site anywhere–despite the walks through the Amazon–go after stories that cry out to be pursued and seldom are, and make the sports presentation of LA, so good that maybe, just maybe, some of the jilted box score readers might get in the habit of signing on, instead of strolling to the front porch.

        That’s pipe dream stuff, of course, but it is better than just caving to a horrifying bad business decision (no press ownership) and letting all the canceling box score readers further diminish your circulation numbers and national image.               

         There is a sports cliché, emerging from the sport of boxing, that fits here. It says: Never be measured by whether you are knocked down, but by whether you get back up.

8 thoughts on “Journalist Bill still talks hope for LA Times

  1. Wow…not being a sports-minded individual and reading this piece…amazing stuff!!

  2. Bill Dwyre wrote a terrific piece but he should know better than to list a string of wonderful writers while leaving out the names of another string of terrific writers. Also, several of the named writers used the Times as merely a springboard to other jobs while several of the unnamed writers put in decades of work there, sticking it out through thick and thin.

  3. Bill Dwyre, still the best there ever was. Hell, he’d have made a better “high editor” running the whole joint than almost all who followed Bill Thomas.

  4. No wonder Bill Dwyer was a great sports editor. Would he consider a run for President?

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